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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture Project arose from the need for a comprehensive and reliable reference work on Arkansas. Tom Dillard, then curator at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, and Tim Nutt, then deputy curator, began planning the Encyclopedia in late 2002. They enlisted the help of Jill Curran to explore the possibility of creating an encyclopedia for the state.
The Encyclopedia had been conceived from the beginning as an inclusive and cooperative effort of historical organizations, state agencies, and interested individuals across the state and beyond.
The team researched other state encyclopedias and then held regional meetings across Arkansas to solicit input from local historical and genealogical societies, county and regional museums, academic institutions, relevant state agencies, and archival and research facilities. The feedback and guidance from these early meetings, both in terms of organizational decisions and editorial content, became the foundation of the Project.
Curran became the project coordinator and Nathania Sawyer joined the team to be the senior editor. In the fall of 2003, the Encyclopedia’s newly formed Oversight and Editorial Boards met for the first time. In December of that year, the Project received a grant of $1.28 million from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, placing it on firm financial footing. Other major contributors followed, including the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Arkansas Humanities Council. Staffing the project took place in early 2004 as work began in earnest to recruit authors.
Dillard resigned from the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in 2004 and went to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Nutt resigned in 2005 and also went to UA. Curran left the project at the end of 2005. Sawyer assumed their duties and became senior editor and project manager.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture debuted to the public in May 2006, as a work in progress. It contained approximately 700 entries and 900 pieces of media. During its first month online, the Encyclopedia had more than 47,000 visits and 3.3 million hits. The Encyclopedia receives more than 1.6 million visits a year. Users have come from every continent (including Antarctica) and more than 215 countries. As of 2013, the site also offers more than 3,200 entries and more than 4,200 pieces of media.